Creating Artist Sketch Cards

As a comic artist, I’m always looking for ways to connect with my audience and also to find ways to earn money to offset my expenses etc. Recently I decided to create a series of artist sketch cards to have available for sale at conventions. In this article, I’ll try to give you some insights into how I’ve gone about the process.

The first decision I had to make was the format for my cards. There are a lot of  people who make sketch cards on a small format roughly 2.5″x3.5″. You can even buy these standard sized cards with a light blue frame outline and the words “sketch card” printed on them. But, I wanted to work in a larger size closer to the normal panel size of my comic. That meant that I needed a card that was approximately 6″x6″. I also wanted the cards to work well with ink and/or colored markers. My preferred surface is vellum Bristol board. As it turns out Strathmore makes a nice 300 series of vellum Bristol board in a 6″x6″ pad. Depending on where you buy them, they cost between $1.40 and $3.00 for a 20 sheet pad.

As you can see in the photo above, I’ve taken the plain 6″x6″ sheet of Bristol board and customized it with an outline panel frame with the titles “BugPudding” and “Artist Sketchcard” and my copyright signature. In order to do this I take the sheets out of the pad and run them through my computer printer. I made the template for the cards in Adobe Illustrator set up on a canvas that is 6″x8″. Then I save that off as a PDF document and use that to print on the Bristol board. The reason I layed the template out on 6″x8″ instead of the actual 6″x6″ size is because the standard paper size my printer expects is 6″x8″. Even though I’m actually printing on a sheet that’s 6″x6″.

Having decided on the size and format of the blank sketch cards, I’m ready to start making cards. I wanted to have two types of cards. One type is for pen and ink drawings and the other type is pen and ink that is then colored with markers. The plain pen and ink cards are faster to make and therefore I can afford to price them for less then the colored cards. Basically it takes about twice as long to do the additional marker coloring. In either case the first step is to do a loose blue pencil sketch over which I render the pen and ink drawing.

In general I erase any blue pencil lines that show after the ink has dried. I could leave them, but it’s an old habit.

Above is a photo of the basic tools that I use to make the sketch cards. Starting with the Bristol board, I use waterproof ink both black and assorted colors. My normal style in the comic is to ink in assorted colors so for some of my sketch cards I reproduce that look. For others I just use black India ink. I use my trusty lead holder with 2mm blue lead and a lead pointer. For the actual inking I use dip pens as well as Winsor Newton series 7 sable brushes. I also have a jar of “Pro-White” for making corrections and of course my handy Sakura cordless electric eraser.

I prefer to use Copic sketch markers for my coloring. The aren’t as flexible as using a brush and watercolors, but much faster and easier. Let’s face it, time is money.

Above is an example of an inked and colored sketch card. They aren’t as nice as if I were digitally coloring in Photoshop but these are “old school” hand drawn and colored sketch cards not digital prints.

Above is an assortment of my sketch cards. I want people to be able to handle them at the conventions when they pick out their favorites therefore I needed to protect the art by putting the cards in a self sealing clear plastic bag.

I buy these self sealing clear plastic bags sized 6-7/16″ x 6-1/4″ from a company called Clear Bags. A hundred bags cost $6. The seal is great and it allows the bag to be easily opened and resealed if I need to add an additional autograph ect.

I also take blank sketch cards to the conventions for the occasional on the spot special request, but I really am too busy to do much of that during a normal convention so I try to make up a big stock of cards in advance. I’d much rather be talking to people and showing them the comic and save my drawing work for in the studio. I hope you got some good ideas from this article. If you have any questions, or other thoughts, just leave a comment.

10 thoughts on “Creating Artist Sketch Cards”

  1. Beautiful work, JK. It makes me want to go back to that kind of tangible media. Incidentally, those watercolor trees you so casually toss into your backgrounds would absolutely generate some interest as well. They’re incredible!

  2. Thanks Marty,
    I really enjoy doing the trees. I haven’t wanted to do too many non-woodsy backgrounds except for when I did that sequence in the dungeon and Dr. B’s hideout, so the trees are my sort of signature background props. I plan to expand them into homes for the characters ala Winnie The Poo eventually. I am enjoying doing the sketch cards as I like working in physical media, but it’s tough to not want to work mostly digital just because it is so much more flexible and forgiving.

  3. I like your work. I am an aspiring comic book artist and illustrator. I have been curious as to how one market his art using sketch cards? Can sketch cards be smaller, too, like baseball card size?

  4. The size of the cards is not significant, the really important part is what you put on the cards. Some people do fan art of other people’s characters, some people do only original art. It’s a matter of your goal. It’s often easier to sell art of famous characters than it is to sell your original character art. Personally, I only do my own characters because I’m mostly interested in promoting my own creations. There is nothing wrong with fan art as long as you don’t try to claim the characters as your own.

  5. J.P., I just got some time to rummage through parts of your site other than the wonderful comics pages and stumbled across this page. I’ve been looking for some kind of white that will work with Copic pens/brushes for my non-digital work (commissions, sketch cards, etc) so I really appreciate the valuable information you have here.

    I already use many of the products you’ve shown here except the white and the electric eraser. Will look into the eraser too. Looks handy.

    One question though, J.P.: Are the links, say to the bag company, affiliate links? I’d like to know that by clicking them YOU will receive something back from my purchase there, however small.

  6. Hi J.P.
    I’m a cartoonist and have been thinking about exploring the sketch card possibilties for my work. Thank you very much for this very informative, starting from the basics on how to produce sketch cards. I certainly appreciate this very much.

    I’m not in a geographical area that is convenient for getting to conventions, so I’ll have to pursue other outlets for sales potential.

    Thanks again,

    Mike Spicer

  7. Thanks for taking the time to write and photograph your work process.
    I have Just gotten into this.
    Is there a rule of thumb for pricing on the 2.5x 3.5 cards for a smaller, lesser known artist? Or should I watch what fellow creators do at the upcoming con and price competitively?

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